OUR local post office represents one of the binding connections between state and citizen — but it is so much more. It can be the pulse of the community, a rural lifeline, and a connection on the street where you live.
For Ann, running Barrackton Post Office on Military Hill in Cork city has been a way of life for 48 years. So, when the post-mistress franks the last stamp and closes the doors for the last time on February 27, it will mark the end of an era — and the end of a four-generation connection.
“It’s the people that I will miss the most,” says Ann, who is married to Jerry and has three children — Philip, Maria and Fiona — and five grandchildren.
“I love the conversations and having a bit of cráic with our customers. They are my friends and like my own family.
“The oldest person we have calling in to us once a week from White’s Cross is 93 years old and calling to the Post Office is a social outing for her. Another lady, Maureen Taylor, is 92 and still going strong! We call each other on the phone and swap birthday cards.
“The pensioners I am now serving, I once served their parents.
“Phyllis Griffin is coming here to Barrackton Post Office for as long as I’m here, 48 years. People coming to us for years were always so loyal,” says Ann.
They trusted and respected her too.
“I was often a confidant!”
Ann was a community person.
“The annual Holy Family parish Christmas Dinner Dance we ran for years was hugely popular,” she says
Ann, connected with her customers for almost five decades, has a wealth of information about their welfare.
“We discuss the weather, how Nan’s hips are, how the child’s cold is, and how faraway loved ones are getting on. The Post Office is a meeting place for people. We have a chat and pass the time of day.”
Ann, known to everyone in the community, will be sorely missed. The collection of cards, cakes and buns on the kitchen worktop behind the nook of the counter from kind neighbours and patrons is an indication of how much she and her husband Jerry are treasured.
“People are so kind,” says Ann. “This is a great community.”
I tell her the local Post Office when I was growing up was where I got my first passport and first driving licence, where my dad bought the TV licence and where my mother still gets her pension.
“The Post Office is a one-stop shop alright,” says Ann, who also has an array of books in the little booth tucked in behind the counter display for people to choose from.
The Barracktown premises, bought by Ann’s grandparents, John and Margaret Barry, at the turn of the 1900s, was more than a one-stop shop back then.
“They had a coal, vegetable and potatoes store near the Cameo cinema opposite Collins Barracks on the Old Youghal Road,” says Ann.
“They also had a stable for two horses. That was in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s when they also ran a tea-room. Later, the coal stores were moved down behind our house and the Post Office.”
Ann’s grandparents were serious business-people.
“They opened a bigger shop premises, taking in all the front of the building and going all the way back,” says Ann.
“That way they had a bigger store room for the shop — and ending up with Garrison Stores. The tea-rooms were gone by then.”
But people can still recall the tea room and the tasty home-made fare it provided.
“I met a man recently who told me he often stopped off for his breakfast here,” says Jerry.
When Ann was nine, she recalls the mighty presence of President John F Kennedy, when his motorcade arrived up the hill at Collins’ Barracks.
“He was a big, strong man and very tanned,” she recalls. “I was looking out the top window at him in the open top car, only 10 yards away. The helicopter waited for him to take him to Wexford.”
The Post Office’s closure brings to an end to more than 100 years of service by four generations of the Barry family. The end of the era will also end the name ’ in the wider area; a name going back to Cork’s first successful civilian soccer team, Barrackton FC.
“My grandparents, John and Margaret Barry, who bought the premises, had seven boys and one girl,” says Ann.
“They lost two boys within six months of one another to the Spanish Flu, Michael was 11 and Patrick was two.”
They were turbulent times.
“My grandparents lived through the War of Independence when the ambush happened at Dillons Cross on December 11, 1920, and they witnessed the burning of Cork during the Civil war,” says Ann.
Her uncle, Davy Barry, inherited the business from his mother and became the postmaster.
“My Aunt Maureen was a clerk in the Post Office,” says Ann.
The Barrys were hard-working people.
“She was a shop assistant at Garrison Stores too.”
Ann loved the hustle and bustle at the Barrackton hub.
“As a young girl, I used come from my house in Ballyvolane and help Uncle Davy out in the shop and post office,” says Ann. “Even back then, I loved the friendly atmosphere and the buzz of all the people coming in and out.”
Ann had forged her own career. “I worked as a typist in the office in Roches Stores,” says Ann. “It was a great place to work.”
What was it like working in Barrackton shop and Post Office back in the day with her Uncle Davy?
“It was a huge shop, and it was a big presence on the street,” says Ann.
It enjoyed a vantage point at the top of the hill. “It was like the corner shop.”
The shop was a treasure trove.
“It sold everything!” says Ann. “There were no Dunnes Stores or TescoS back then. People used to put their shopping ‘on the slate’ and pay the bill at the end of the week.”
Davy had a claim to fame. “He was famous for his ham!” says Jerry, laughing.
The secret of the flavoursome meat was never handed down.
“We never found out how he cooked it! He had his own way of cooking the ham.”
Davy had a fondness for his willing assistant.
“When Uncle Davy died in August, 1979, he left the Post Office to me,” says Ann.
The two had a good working relationship.
“My heart sank when Uncle Davy died,” says Ann.
“I was very fond of him and we were close. I never realised he was going to leave the Post Office to me.”
Ann, at 25, was the youngest post-mistress ever appointed.
“I had to go for an interview and a medical but I knew I was capable,” she says.
An Post knew she was the perfect candidate to carry on the legacy of her grandparents.
“Jerry and I worked in the shop, putting in long hours seven days a week,” says Ann.
The family expanded.
“When we had Philip and Maria, we decided to close Garrison Stores and rearrange the Post Office as it is today.”
The Post Office was a home-from-home.
“Ann was always there for the children when they came home from school,” says Jerry, who works as a landscaper.
“Dinner was always on the table every evening.”
Mixing business with domestic affairs was a perfect family affair.
“Later on, all our children did a stint in the Post Office before forging their own careers.
Barracktown attracted a fifth generation.
“If anyone could take over the Post Office, our granddaughter Sophie could!” says Jerry. “She loves it!”
While Ann and Jerry loved working in the Post Office, being a big part of the community, making life-long friends, they are also looking forward to playing other roles. “We are member of the Pyke Players theatre group,” says Jerry. “That is our hobby and we get great enjoyment out of it.”
Ann gets great enjoyment out of being a long-standing member of St Luke’s ICA and being involved in the annual Shoe Box Appeal.
“Being involved in the Shoe Box Appeal is the love of my life,” she says.
She inspires others to chip in helping people in need.
“The ladies in the ICA are great knitters and we knit garments for Sr Stephanie, a retired nun in Blackrock Convent, who sends the garments out overseas to children in need.”
Ann gets working on filling boxes and bags early in the year.
“I begin collecting items in Pennys and in the January sales and fill bags of stuff to send out to Africa.”
Ann knows charity begins at home.
“We support Cork Penny Dinners and Edel House. Charlie Wilkins is a good friend of ours and we are involved in his charitable works.”
Now Ann is retiring and admits to being an ‘old age pensioner’, will it be strange for her to be collecting the pension instead of giving it out? Ann laughs.
“It will feel a bit strange to be in the queue.
She and Jerry don’t intend on letting the grass grow under their feet.
“We’ll be doing a bit of renovating, making the front room bigger,” says Jerry.
The original 19th century staircase will stay put. It’s a part of history.
“February27 will be an emotional day when we close the doors for good,” says Ann.
The door on her ancestor’s legacy will never be closed. “We’ll remember the people who started it all off,” she says.
I will miss all my customers as we are the best of friends and have become more like a large family. Over the 48 years we have shared the tears, the laughter, the hugs and the banter — together.
“I wish to take this opportunity to thank each and every one, for their support, their friendship and their kindness they have show me. I will never forget them.
“It has been a fantastic life behind the counter, no two days were the same, lots of chat and laughter too... that’s what makes life so interesting.”